An Embarrassment To The Game

Anyone with any sort of knowledge or hockey – or basic human nature – could have guessed that there would be fights during last night’s game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Islanders.  During the previous game between the two teams both Rick DiPietro and Blake Comeau were injured, so you knew the Islanders would be looking for revenge.

You probably didn’t expect the two teams to step into a time machine and end up in the 1970s.

But that’s exactly what happened.  From sucker punches, to a player challenging a goaltender to a fight, to another player leaving the bench to join a fight, to taunting and cheapshots after hits, to flying elbows and more, this game had everything that the NHL has been trying to take out of the sport for years.

Almost everyone likes hockey fights.  98% of players in the recent NHL players poll said that fighting should stay in the game.  But there’s a different between fighting and insane brawling.  There’s nothing wrong with two players who want to fight one another dropping the gloves.  But that’s not what we saw last night for the most part.

Max Talbot and Brent Johnson of the Penguins were clearly targeted by the Islanders yesterday.  Talbot hit Blake Comeau relatively cleanly on February 2nd, however Comeau was unfortunately concussed on the play.   Matt Martin of the Islanders tried to exact some revenge against Talbot by attempting to throw a sucker punch at his head during the second period.  We don’t want to be accused of hyperbole here, but it had a Tood Bertuzzi/Steve Moore feel to it.  Martin didn’t really connect with the punch however.

Brent Johnson knocked out Rick DiPietro during a fight last game.  DiPietro is currently out of the line-up with facial injuries.  Again looking for revenge, Michael Haley of the Islanders challenged Johnson to a fight during the third period of the game.  Skaters fighting goaltenders simply does not happen very often in this league.  A goaltender, covered in bulky equipment, is always at a disadvantage when fighting a skater.

But it got worse.  The Penguins Eric Godard left the bench to attack Haley as he tried to fight Johnson.  Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has been fined and suspended for Godard leaving the bench.  It’s suspected that Godard will receive a 10 game suspension.

Most of the fights last night happened after the game was already out of hand.  The Islanders were already way ahead on the scoreboard.

Again, you had to assume the Islanders would be looking for some sort of revenge.

Usually, before games where it seems like there will be violence, the league will issue a statement that they are watching the game closely.  Senior officials will usually be called in and Colin Campbell will sometimes attend the game.  That’s what happened last season in the first game between the Penguins and Bruins after the Cooke-Savard hit.  Why didn’t it happen last night?

Before that Bruins/Penguins game Campbell said “anytime we have things like this, we do some things to ensure that hopefully things don’t get out of hand, and they do what they have to do and keep things civil.”

That clearly didn’t happen yesterday.  The officials couldn’t keep control of the game.

The game received very little mention on NHL.com today, which could indicate that the the league is embarrassed by what happened last night.  However, the official NHL.com game recap starts off with “the New York Islanders exacted the NHL’s version of revenge on the Pittsburgh Penguins.”  Does that mean the NHL condones this kind of violence?  Or that they celebrate it?  That runs contrary to everything else they’ve ever said about “revenge” during games.

Fighting in hockey is fine.  Even “old time hockey” is fine.  Intending to injure players in ridiculous brawls is not.  As Puck Daddy said, “there’s old time hockey, and then there’s a prison riot.”

There were 14 fighting majors, 21 misconducts and 346 penalty minutes in the game.

We’ll see what kind of additional discipline comes out of this soon.  There will likely be a lot.

The teams meet again on April 8th.